What to Do along the Jordan King’s Highway

Jordan’s ultimate road trip is the King’s Highway, which swoops over the high ridge of the Great Rift Valley. While the landscape of rolling plains interspersed with views of barren cliffs tumbling down to the Dead Sea basin is enough of a reason to drive this road, it’s the history here that is its greatest highlight. This is an ancient route, traveled by kings, conquerors, and Crusaders. A road trip here is a journey into Jordan’s past.

Al Jizah, Madaba, Jordan
For knockout views of Madaba, plus the fun of scrambling around oversize bells on your way up the bell tower, don’t leave Madaba without visiting the Shrine of the Beheading of John the Baptist Latin Church. Built over Madaba’s ancient acropolis, the area under the church has been carefully excavated in recent years, and the warren of rooms and tunnels underneath (including an ancient Moabite well thought to be 3,000 years old) has been opened up to visitors as well.
Unnamed Road
Pilgrims since the Byzantine period have claimed this spot to be where Moses finally saw the Promised Land, and where the prophet died. Today, the Moses Memorial Church here (a modern construction, built over an earlier Byzantine church) is home to a superb collection of 6th-century mosaics, while a lookout platform nearby allows you to take in Moses’ view—although if you want to see more than haze, come early in the morning when clear skies are likely.
Madaba, Jordan
Mukawir (ancient Machaerus), a short drive off the King’s Highway, is said to be where John the Baptist lost his head after Salome danced for King Herod. There are only scant remains of Herod the Great’s castle on the conical mountaintop, but you’re really here for the yawning views of rippling hills that stretch down to the Dead Sea and out to the West Bank beyond.
Kerak, Jordan
Central Jordan is bisected by the King’s Highway, which runs south between the Dead Sea and the desert. The undoubted highlight of traveling this route is the massive Crusader castle of Karak, with its immense fortifications looming over the provincial town that bears its name. Built in 1140, it was one of the last outposts held by the Crusaders after Jerusalem was recaptured by Saladin in 1187. It fell to the Arab-Kurdish armies the following year after a long, drawn-out siege and continued to change hands—and shape—over time. The Mamelukes widened the moat and added more towers, while the Ottomans built a massive entry gate.

Today, Karak remains the largest, best-preserved castle in Jordan. Inside, there are tunnels, dark chambers and dungeons, and vast, arched-roof stables to explore. If you head east out of town, past the Cairwan Hotel, there’s a lookout point where you can get a spectacular view of the castle in its entirety.
محمية ضانا, Dhana 66666, Jordan
Dana Biosphere Reserve is the largest nature reserve in Jordan. For hikers and trekkers, it’s one of Jordan’s top places to get out into the wilderness, but even the less adventurous will enjoy a stop here simply to enjoy the tranquillity of Dana village, with its majestic views over the tumbling hills below. The reserve is dominated by enormous sandstone cliffs that guard the valley, creating a series of microclimates and ecosystems that house nearly 200 species of birds and most of Jordan’s mammals. Sightings of ibex, gazelles, and even wolves are not uncommon. At the entrance to the reserve in Dana village, you’ll find an excellent visitor center run by the Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature, which can recommend park guides. For a different way to experience the reserve, consider the five-day hike from Dana to Petra—deemed one of the greatest treks in the Middle East. It’s particularly pretty early in the year, when the route is laid with spring flowers.
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